One fantastic way to reduce carbon emissions is to plant trees. As forests mature, they become effective carbon sinks, capturing carbon from the atmosphere. Though this process is much slower than other carbon-reducing initiatives, we have seen firsthand how vital preserving forests truly is for our planet. As deforestation has become more expansive, entering some of the world’s most highly diverse forested areas, including regions in Myanmar and Brazil, carbon is being re-released at exponential rates. Deforestation destroys habitats as well, leading to the displacement and potential extirpation of species. Further, deforestation can affect humans, as many communities rely on forests for resources, shelter, and income. With the recent popularization of carbon offsetting, more and more tree-planting initiatives are popping up. To make an informed decision about offsets, we will differentiate between afforestation and reforestation initiatives and provide their benefits and drawbacks concerning other offset options.
#Afforestation involves planting trees in areas of land that were not previously forested.
#Reforestation, in comparison, is the process of planting trees in areas with a declined or decreasing forest cover.
When looking at the options, both can have negative and positive effects on species diversity within the site. Afforestation can be incredible at providing lush foliage to areas affected by desertification and degradation. However, some seemingly depleted areas can be home to rare endemic species, and a change in the landscape could harm any natural vegetation that thrives off the dry climate. Organizations can minimize this issue by analyzing the landscape before planting and creating a registered offset.
With reforestation, young trees are placed in environments with previously mature trees. This alternative can be beneficial by helping to restimulate natural forest cover within the area. Then, the offset project does not end with tree planting, as the region can continue to renew naturally for decades. One concern is that mature trees can house an ecosystem that the younger trees will not be able to support. If a species is on the brink of displacement within the region, new trees will not aid in restoring the habitat in time for that species to adapt and repopulate. It is then vital for planters to understand the species of tree, density and location necessary to facilitate continued success. If the planting measures are accurate, the local species can adjust and expand their ecosystem.
Both afforestation and reforestation are incredibly effective at sequestering carbon, as young trees take in more carbon as they grow. That fact alone makes both options extremely beneficial offset projects. If enough research is done to ensure that vegetation or wildlife will adapt or even benefit from new trees within the region, there should not be any concern with funding such projects. Further peace of mind can stem from knowing the expected outcome of the tree planting. If the area being forested will lead to more sustainable forestry and logging, the project is beneficial to the environment and aims to compensate for previously damaging activities. However, if the new forest will only add to existing logging initiatives, then there will be no long-term benefits realized. Eventually, loggers will cut down the trees, and the stored carbon will be released at a level higher than what was previously available. With all of this in mind, the main reason for critique is that it is a reactive approach to carbon reduction. Unlike projects involving creating new technologies to repurpose harmful materials or design alternatives, tree planting only acts as a response. Tree-planting cannot alter the way we utilize or emit carbon, whereas technology and research can. Though we may hope that planting trees alone will be enough, we must support the alternatives that minimize further emissions to see actual change. If we continue emitting carbon at the level and rate we do, trees will be nowhere near enough. Technology can help to create an alternate future for our planet.
Though emphasis has been put on alternate offsets, any offset (including tree planting!) with measurability and traceability is amazing to fund. It is simply necessary to do your research about the offset you are interested in to decide if it is worthwhile and beneficial. And, to make it easier, you can choose to fund projects that have met offset standards, including the gold standard, to have more certainty in your decisions. As long as individuals support other technology-based initiatives with their funding of tree planting, we can reduce carbon in both current and quick, and long-term sustainable ways.